Why Diversity in IT is a Business Problem

Last week, an article on the BBC website claimed that women are better coders than men. In fact, digging into the detail of this study, the ‘evidence’ was not that strong; there’s just a 4.2% difference between men and women. Perhaps we can conclude that men and women are pretty similar when it comes to their technical ability.

However, the article does raise another interesting point; only 18% of Google’s technical workforce is female, and the figure is lower for Facebook at 16%. There’s clearly something going on which is causing this gender gap. But what is it – and why should the business care?

Changing the way we think about tech

Facebook is not actively excluding women, and some people believe that women need to push harder to be heard. Facebook COO, Sheryl Sandberg, wrote a book encouraging women to Lean In, but that’s assuming they even got the job in the first place.

Monster, the UK recruitment agency, has published 7 key recommendations to increase the numbers of women recruited into tech jobs. One is that all shortlists should have at least one female candidate, where it’s practical to include one, in order to combat invisible sexism in the shortlists.

The second point, highlighted brilliantly in Georgie Barrat’s excellent summary, is the requirement to change the language in job descriptions. From the company’s values and goals, to the wording used to describe benefits, the language of the tech job could arguably be more gender neutral.

Working on on the workplace

At Agile Yorkshire last November, Jess Drakett presented some interesting statistics about the gender gap in IT. When she looked at computer science university applications, women accounted for just 12%.

Girls may see computer science as a ‘boy’s subject’; the stereotype of the male nerd still rings true. If we could tackle the way IT is perceived, could we close the gender gap for good?

When people think about making the workplace more welcoming to women, they refer to things like part-time hours, or half-term leave. These things are essential for many parents, but for women specifically, the wider business has a role to play in changing the way they feel at work. Jess made an important point about ‘harmless’ office banter, and how some women secretly feel bullied the jokes colleagues make. The whole business has a duty to make the office more welcoming, and that means addressing sexist language in the workplace first and foremost.

Closing the gender gap

Women who leave IT positions aren’t necessarily leaving to take care of their kids. Some are leaving because they’re uncomfortable, or because they feel under-valued in their role. Yet IT skills are now necessary in practically every job, and the business needs IT needs across the board.

It’s time we recognised that diversity is not just an IT problem, but a challenge the whole business needs to address. TechTalent Charter, Girls in Tech and BCS Women in IT are all finding new ways to bring women into IT. Smart businesses will follow their lead.

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